Route 66 - Carthage, Belle Starr and Kilroy

Putting Springfield behind us, we followed Route 66 through southwest Missouri for 59 miles through several ghost towns like Log City and Stone City where nothing but a few ruins remain and small towns with interesting names like Halltown (lots of antique shops), Albatross, Rescue, and Plew. This was a wonderful little drive with interesting things to see and not any traffic to speak of. From this section going west is where old abandoned businesses and other Route 66 attractions begin to grow in number. For me, this is where our road trip really began to be interesting.

Bridge on Old 66 Blvd outside Carthage.
On the east side of Carthage coming in on “Old 66 Blvd,” we crossed over a nice little bridge which was built in 1922, but is apparently slated for demolition or at least to be taken out of service. We saw a sign indicating it would be closing in May, 2012. We crossed it in late May, 2012 so it looks like we were among the last ones to drive on it.

A couple of miles outside of Carthage is the historic 66 Drive-In, one of the very few remaining drive-in theaters still in operation on Route 66. Opening night was September 22, 1949 and it was the site of nightly entertainment until it closed in 1985. For a few years it was used as a salvage yard and it fell into serious disrepair, but Mark and Dixie Goodman purchased it and through their hard work and dedication, the place has been completely renovated. It re-opened in 1998 and now shows two first-run movies every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is very much a family run business as Mark runs the projector and Dixie and their 2 children run the snack bar.

Crossing the Spring River, we entered the town of Carthage, “Gateway to the Ozarks” and the birth place in 1848 of Myra Mabelle Shirley. Myra’s father was Judge John Shirley who also operated a hotel-tavern in Carthage as well as a blacksmith and livery stable business. Her mother was the former Eliza Hatfield, from the feuding mountain clan that fought it out with the McCoy's.
Bushwhackers and other outlaws used the judge's tavern as a hideout during the pre-Civil War days and horse thieves used the livery stable as a trading station. Judge Shirley was in politics to establish himself as a "Southern Gentleman" but the outlaws who hung around his establishments, although they made him wealthy, didn’t help him achieve his ambitions.

I had told Youngest-daughter so much about
drive-ins when I was her age that she insisted
I get my picture taken here.
The judge wanted to bring Myra up as a lady and sent her to the Elete Female Academy of Carthage. They tried to teach her the finer things of life, especially to play the piano, but their teachings didn’t take. Her interests were with guns and horses rather than finery and education.  She learned to shoot pistols and the rough crowd around the stable taught her to ride like an old cowhand and cuss like the men. While still in her teens, she took on William Quantrill as her lover; the same William Quantrill who was later known as “Bloody Bill”.

During the Civil War, Myra became a spy for the Confederacy and rode with Quantrill and his Raiders. She took part in several battles in and around Carthage and had killed at least 4 Yankee soldiers by the time she was 18. One of the men in that group was Cole Younger, a cousin to Frank and Jesse James. Myra fell madly in love with him, but after the war, Cole rode off and left her with a broken heart.

Myra moved to Scyene,Texas outside of Dallas and soon took up with horse thieves, murderers and other bad men. In spite of the crowd she kept, she always had a strong sense of style. A crack shot, she would ride sidesaddle while dressed in a black velvet riding habit and a plumed hat, carrying two pistols with cartridge belts across her hips. Eventually she married Jim Reed, who had a price on his head for murder. By all accounts, the couple were happy and they had 2 children, a son named Eddie and a daughter named Rosie (who in later years, going by the name Pearl Starr, became famous herself as a prostitute and madam of several high-class bordellos in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas.) In 1875, Jim was shot to death by a bounty hunter, John Morris, who hoped to collect the reward of $5,000 for Reed, dead or alive. Myra was called to identify her husband and said, "I ain't never seen this man before in my life and you killed the wrong man, John Morris, you sneaking murderer." Morris never did collect his reward.

Sam and Belle Starr
After at least one more marriage and numerous outlaw lovers, Myra married Sam Starr, an Indian 10 years younger than her and a known horse thief. Myra took Sam’s last name and, using her middle name, gained notoriety and went down in history as Belle Starr. After Sam was killed in a fight at a country dance, Belle traveled around the country, leaving places and lovers behind, usually just one step ahead of the law. She eventually ended up marrying Jim July, a man 15 years younger than she and a relative of Sam Starr. They lived in an old ranch house in Indian Territory.
One evening after Belle got into an argument with a neighbor whom she felt had cheated her from the sale of some stolen horses, she stormed out of her house, jumped on her favorite pony and rode away. As she rounded a bend not far down the road, the blast of a shotgun knocked her from the saddle. She was dead before she hit the ground with a load of buckshot in her back. The killer wanted to be sure and came from hiding to fire another charge into her upper chest and face. Belle's daughter heard the shots, rushed down the road and found the body of her mother. It was February 3, 1889 and Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr, who crammed a whole lot of living into her years, was dead 2 days before her 41st birthday.

No tears were shed over Belle's death but everybody wondered who had killed her. Everyone was suspected, but nobody was proven to be the killer and her death remains a mystery to this day. Belle Starr, “The Bandit Queen,” was an enigma, supposedly a wild, wicked woman, but her only crime conviction was for the theft of a single horse in 1882. Perhaps she was just misunderstood - and had an absolutely terrible taste in men.
Downtown Carthage is worth a visit. Historically, there were two large battles fought in the town during the Civil War and minor skirmishes were a common occurrence. During the 1863 battle, the courthouse and most of the town were burned to the ground. After the war, the town became prosperous due to the lead mines and limestone quarries in the area. It became so prosperous that at one time, Carthage was home to more millionaires than any other city in America. The courthouse was rebuilt in the late 1800’s with locally mined stone and is now considered one of the prettiest in all of America. Now home to about 14,400 folks, at least one of them certainly has a sense of humor. If you visit the downtown square, look closely at the grass around the courthouse and you may find a turnip or two. A few years back when the lawn was replaced, someone slipped turnip seed into the grass mixture. After careful watering and tending, officials found they didn’t have much of a lawn, but they did have a bumper crop of turnips!

Kilroy was here!
As we were leaving Carthage, we came across something I haven't seen in a long time. Kilroy was here!
There was one person who led every combat, training or occupation operation during WWII and the Korean War. GI's began to consider him the "super GI." He was one who always got there first and was always there when they left - Kilroy.

James J. Kilroy, a shipyard inspector during WWII, chalked the words “Kilroy was here” on bulkheads and in remote recesses and corners to show that he had been there and inspected the riveting in the newly constructed ships. To the sailors and troops in those ships, however, it was a complete mystery — all they knew for sure was that "Kilroy" had been there first. As a joke, they began placing the graffiti wherever they landed or went, claiming it was already there when they arrived.
It became a challenge to place the logo in the most unlikely places. It is said to be atop Mt. Everest, the Statue of Liberty, the underside of the Arch de Triumphe. In 1945, an outhouse was built for the exclusive use of Truman, Stalin, and Churchill who were in Germany for the Potsdam conference. The first person to use it was Stalin. He emerged and asked his aide (in Russian), "Who is Kilroy?"

UDT (Under Water Demolition - later Navy Seals) divers swam ashore on Japanese held islands in the Pacific to prepare the beaches for the coming landings by US troops. On more than one occasion, they reported seeing "Kilroy was here" scrawled on makeshift signs or on enemy pillboxes. They, in turn, often left similar signs for the next incoming GIs who would be astounded after fighting through hell and somehow surviving only to find that Kilroy had already been there.

Kilroy, may you never be forgotten.
The tradition continued through the Korean War and in Vietnam. Persistent rumor has it that one of the astronauts scribbled the logo in the dust on the moon. Sadly, the tradition and the logo is rarely seen today. Kilroy is no longer everywhere. Evidently he finally retired – in Carthage, Missouri.
Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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